Hey, Parents: Texting Your College-Aged Child May Benefit Their Mental Health

Being the parent of a college-aged student can be a difficult transition for the parent/child relationship. For many parents, this is the first time their child has been out of their home on a consistent basis. With each passing semester, these young adults grow more independent, many returning home less and less often. And, even for those live-at-home or college-aged children you see more frequently, they are still in the transition to adulthood. Between work, class, a social life, and appropriate developmental independence, parents may feel like they just don’t get to talk with or support their children as much as they would like to.

So, what unique option do parents have for connecting with their increasingly independent young adults that is effective? According to an interesting study out of Cal State Fullerton, it’s by texting.

Texting, really?! But I want to talk to my child! Yes, face-to-face conversations can be helpful. But, as many parents of young adults can attest, that is not always possible or well-received. Additionally, there are some developmental and generational perspectives to be considered.

  1. In every generation, the late-teen/young adult years can be difficult for parents wanting to connect with their child. Part of this is their developing independence. But, part of it is also associated with how their brains are wired. In the young adult years, the limbic (emotion) section of the brain is running the show more than the prefrontal cortex (rational) section. This is not to say that they aren’t capable and competent. Of course they are! Young people do amazing things. But, it does offer an explanation why face-to-face conversations about emotions and well-being may be better received in the less intense format of texting. It’s kind of like the digital version of riding in a car and not looking at each other during a hard conversation. Sometimes it’s easier to talk when you are not looking directly at someone you care about.
  2. Current college students are “digital natives.” Their entire existence has been shaped by technology and their brains are literally wired to receive digital communication as real and authentic. So, when you text a supportive message to your young adult it feels real, it matters, and the research out of Cal State Fullerton shows it can decrease the risk of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation for those at risk. Telehealth, virtual counseling, and texts from good ol’ Mom and Dad can all be effective ways to help our students in the digital age. So, when you are “speaking their language” they may hear you better.

As much as we would all love to have the time, energy, and welcome to have face-to-face conversations with students, it’s nice to know that reaching out in a digital format has shown to reach them, comfort them, and offer support to their mental health. Until the time comes when they are at our kitchen table again, let’s make an effort to stay connected in any way that we can, even if it is just characters on a screen. Parents, your communication with your student still matters. Keep reaching out.

March 8, 2022. By Anne Rulo, Author, Speaker, Therapist. FB/IG/Twitter @annemrulo

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